Notes on Power:
The concept of power used in social science today
is mystical and can never be identified by
observation. Assertions based on it can never be
dislodged by further research. It is no different
than the melanesian concept of mana: the necessary
condition for successful action.
Will is the sufficient condition: Power + Will
= Social Action is the formula that explains why
things happen. The rest is hedging.
What is missing is how people are moved by
inspiration to act on their understandings.
Power appears as a quality in potential, (good
notes in Marks “What it means to be 95% Chim” on
ability and potential as always referring to the
past and also the difference between performance
for people and their potential) always in
potential, which is in fact the same latin root
from which we get the concept in the first place.
The concept power we use is an post hoc explanatory
device to account for successful action, especially
social action, how it is that anything actually
does happen socially.
Maquet moves gently by analogy: power to act on
the world, power to control oneself, power to
restrain others from doing, power to get others to
do something.
Economics does not use it because that model of
exchange deals in strategic decision making or
decision making under risk (even uncertainty)
No definitions vary much from everyday usage:
those that do make it seem like culture itself, the
constraint of life
except for Latour who wants to get rid of it. See
March, also: doesn’t do much good, but what will
fill the gap?
Why are we stuck with it?
animatism vs animism: two concepts in religion
animism got preempted by Christianity: personified
animatism was pushed to the side as superstition by
Christianity, as luck, as a non-concept, as not an
acceptable explanation any longer for social (or
physical) effects.
Is there any historical evidence for this?
so, if god is not simply the necessary condition
for successful action
we’re left with all the strange questions, still,
that March raised so many years ago: quantity, use,
increase or decrease, opposites being true.
Power is a symbol for potential successful social
action in strategic (where what you get depends not
only on what you do but on what others too do)
action, but as Latour points out, first something
happens, and then its cause is identified, and in
this case mana is personified, identified with a
person and his will.
1) after the fact
2) denies other’s agency
3) metaphor of physics where everything is the
same over time, or time has little meaning
4) resistance vs transmission
5) comes down to torture and person to person
violence as the exemplar
6) a conservative ideology in and of itself
7) its discourse is incoherent: why are there no
units of measure? is there more or less?
nothing gets done by the conventional usage
(Latour’s paradox) does exercise expend or
increase its quantity: we talk about quantities
without any measure of quantity
8) it is a powerful symbol, as we use it: it
stands for just what it seems to: that things
get done even tho people seem not to want to do
them: it is the cause of social effects based
on the metaphor of physical cause and effect
and individual abilities to do things (as in
play a piano built a house add a column of
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